The good old supernatural | Bleader

The good old supernatural

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I came to work Tuesday and opened my computer to the Reader home page. Facing me on the screen was Anne Ford's as-told-to interview with Richard Kieckhefer, "historian of magic." (He's a professor of religion at Northwestern.)

"Nearly everybody in the Middle Ages believed in magic," Kieckhefer's account begins.

Next I opened my e-mail. There was a note from a colleague, and the next e-mail I read turned out to be from an author, Jerry Kubicki, pitching his new book, A Dubious Dream. He began:

"History records many people that have had super natural powers. Are they all myth? Or is there a common thread between these unique people throughout the millennium? What if an item has come to earth and has provided those that possess it powers that are both good and evil?"

I moved on to another e-mail. It turned out to be from another author pitching another book. She began:

"Folklore, myth, romance, and secrets better left uncovered are a few of the heart-racing elements that come together in author Lola James’s novella, Bound to Remember, the first installment in the paranormal romance series, The Spellbound Series."

I can't tell you what the next e-mail said because I haven't opened it yet. Instead, I'm writing this.

Professor Kieckhefer's focus is on the techniques and formulas for making magic that have survived from the Middle Ages, but he mentions inquiries from contemporary readers who hope to reproduce the magic and want to know the proper procedures: ""In one manuscript I edited, one of the conjurations is for summoning a flying horse. I got a phone call from a gentleman in India who had tried this conjuration twice, and it didn't work. He wanted to know what I did to make this work. Once I stopped laughing, I had to tell him, 'I'm not a practicing magician. I am a mere historian.'"

But what's funny about a man who can't put together a tricycle or program a cell phone or summon a flying horse and turns to a technician for advice? We've all been in his shoes. When the instructions stump us we get help. We cannot stand to be bewildered.

It seems to me that even in the earliest, prescientific days, we could not stand to be bewildered. There was a lot going on to bewilder us, and as a result there were a lot of explanations from the wise men of the tribe that strike us as ridiculous today. They were just doing the best they could with very limited information. If they didn't come up with something, someone else would. The competition for explanations has always been keen.

Today we call all that magic. Back then it was established procedure that made sense even when it didn't work. Like, in our time, communism. Or perhaps supply-side economics. Or the supernatural. The supernatural just keeps going and going. It's forever young.

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